Public health brings in ‘enhanced security personnel’ for clinics after incidents.
Protests outside Niagara children’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics this past week are “disappointing and unacceptable,” says associate medical officer of health Dr. Azim Kasmani.
St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens is demanding action from the province, after speaking to a resident who said she spent 40 minutes consoling her terrified child after they were confronted by protesters at a recent clinic.
Kasmani said staff working at clinics for five- to 11-year-old children have “noticed some individuals and groups in our community have strong reactions to children being vaccinated, and very often promote misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
“While Niagara Region Public Health recognizes the right to peaceful protest; the harassment of young children and their families attending vaccine clinics is disappointing and unacceptable,” he added.
He said the 5-11 age group currently has the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in Niagara, “and the vaccine is a safe and effective way to provide them with some very welcome protection.”
Kasmani said local public health officials are taking steps to ensure the safety of patients who attend clinics, as well as staff working there.
“The well-being and safety of our clients and staff is of prime importance,” he said. “We are monitoring this closely and have brought in enhanced security personnel at our clinics, who also notify our regional police department if and when necessary.”
Stevens said several parents contacted her office during the week, concerned about being met by protesters at vaccine clinics who they said tried to intimidate and frighten their children, who are already nervous about getting their jab.
“It’s heartbreaking when a parent has to sit down with their child because they’re doing the right thing … and had to sit for 40 minutes to calm them down, to let them down and reassure them that it’s OK,” Stevens said.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s wrong what these people are doing. Also, there are solutions.”
In a letter to Premier Doug Ford on Friday, Stevens said the protesters were shouting at the child that “the government is experimenting on you,” and “you are going to die,” causing immense anxiety for the seven-year-old.
“Children aren’t able to differentiate the quality of information from a doctor or a protester. They aren’t able to ignore the shouting, look the other way and keep walking,” Stevens wrote.
In light of the impact the protesters may have on impressionable children, Stevens called it “shameful” that the provincial government has not acted more to protect parents and children at the clinics.
“Your government already has policy on-hand to create safety-zones and prevent harassment — step up and do the right thing,” she wrote. “We already have legislation on the books that can be passed through the assembly this week.”
She was referring to proposed legislation introduced by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, which would create “safety zones” around public health spaces, such as vaccine clinics.
“The Niagara community has done their part since the beginning of the pandemic to keep each other safe,” Stevens wrote. “Now, it’s time you do your part and approve legislation available to combat harassment against children and families.”
The protests were not limited to Niagara.
There were reports from across Ontario during the past week of anti-vaxxers targeting children’s clinics. In Whitby, Durham Regional Police arrested a woman at a protest while similar incidents have been reported at children’s clinics in Windsor and North Bay.
Niagara Regional Police spokesman Const. Phil Gavin said officers responded to a children’s vaccine clinic in Wainfleet Thursday, where a small group of protesters were attempting to hand out information pamphlets.
Police spoke to a few, reminding them to remain on public property, while monitoring the situation.
“The Trespass to Property Act allows for an owner or agent to direct a person to leave their property. If the person fails to do so or refuses, they can be subject to fine and or arrest by the police,” Gavin said.
However, he said, the role police typically play is to ensure continued public safety and preserve the peace.